Monday, November 4, 2013

How Long Did That Take?

11/4/13 Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor, Diamine Chocolate Brown ink, Sailor pen, Zig marker, Canson Montval (left) and Strathmore 400 (right) 140 lb. papers
How long did it take you to make that?

When beads and fiber were my primary art media, I was asked that question frequently. Since it was always of interest to people, I started keeping track, which helped me to price my work when I eventually offered them for sale. Back then, the answer was anywhere from 20 hours to hundreds of hours for a single piece.

Now that ink and watercolor are my primary sketching media, I’m not asked that question as often. But in an ongoing discussion thread in the Urban Sketchers Flickr group, a sketcher said that he’s interested in learning how long it takes for specific sketches to be completed, so he wished that more sketchers would include that information with the sketches they post.

11/4/13 Diamine Chocolate Brown and Pilot Iroshizuku
Take-Sumi inks, Sailor pen, Sketchbook Project sketchbook
Since I was already in the habit of tracking my time from my beading days, I have always noted the time I start a sketch and the time I finish it on my sketchbook page (though that information is usually cropped out when I post the image). Interestingly, over the two years that I’ve been sketching, the length of time I spend on any particular sketch hasn’t changed much. Other than very quick gestural sketches that take a minute or less, almost all of them take from 20 to 60 minutes, with the vast majority finished in 30 to 45 minutes. (The only exception was my first of many sketches of the Köln Cathedral in Germany, on which I spent two full hours.)

In the sketch above at Green Lake, I was attracted to the juxtaposition of the tall maple tenaciously hanging onto its fading colors and the other tree that had simply let go of autumn and all of its leaves during Saturday’s big storm.

That sketch took 45 minutes. After finishing it, I drove to my yoga class and arrived 10 minutes early. Hmmm . . . 10 minutes isn’t much time for a sketch – but if I know I have only 10 minutes, I can make a 10-minute sketch. So I sketched another bare tree and the cars parked under it.


  1. Two trees and 3 cars in that first! Good job in a small amount of time. I like the quick one too. Yes, if you are forced to do it you can do a sketch in 10 min or even less. I like the challenge of working quickly sometimes.

  2. It is interesting that you bring up this issue. I bought two of the books you list on your site - An Illustrated Journey, and The Art of Urban Sketching. (And let me say, I find them absolutely fascinating and I can't stop looking at either of them.) I really appreciate the fact that The Art of Urban Sketching includes, for most sketches, both a list of materials used, and the amount of time the sketch took to complete. It also sometimes notes if color was added later, off-site. I agree that it is really helpful to know how long a sketch took. "Sketch" can imply a quick gestural drawing, and they often have a loose, gestural look, but many of the sketches in the book took hours to complete. Even some of the seemingly fast drawings took close to an hour. Knowing this helps me to gauge my progress... I might otherwise have looked at the sketches in the book, and your sketches, and imagined that the artists had such confidence and certainty that they could churn out a drawing in a matter of minutes. Once I know that they've spent anywhere from 45 minutes to 4 hours on a drawing, I realize that I can slow down and take greater care in placing my lines... I don't need to be able to churn out an elaborate drawing in just minutes in order to be "good."

    By the way, I really like your ability to capture cars.


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